• Russia downed some of its own planes at the start of the war in Ukraine, a former US official said.
  • As a result, Russia started running out of experienced pilots willing to fly, officials told the FT.
  • A lack of pilots scuppered Russia’s ability to control the skies, per several earlier reports.

Russia shot down several of its own aircraft in the initial days of the invasion of Ukraine, resulting in a dearth of willing pilots needed for Moscow to achieve air superiority, The Financial Times reported.

The FT in a Thursday report cited two Western officials and a Ukrainian official who spoke of the friendly-fire incidents.

“It may not have been double digits, but it’s more than one or two,” a former senior US official told the outlet. “There was a lot of fratricide.”

“They may not have had pilots with combat experience who were willing to fly over Ukraine and risk their necks in that crazy environment,” the official added, per the FT.

Ukrainian forces on the battlefield also witnessed Russians downing Moscow’s own helicopters and planes, according to Vadym Skibitsky, deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence, who spoke to the outlet.

Kyiv’s intelligence units intercepted Russian communications saying the same, he said, per the FT.

“It happened. From artillery units, from tanks, and we even saw it from our intercepts of their conversations,” he said.

It’s unclear which friendly-fire incidents the officials referred to, or if these specific incidents were reported at all.

In July, a Russian war correspondent reported that Moscow’s air force destroyed a target in the sky and rendered it a “burning ball.” It later turned out to be Russia’s own Su-34M, a type of bomber.

A view of destroyed armored SU-34 fighter jet belonging to Russian forces after Russian forces withdrawn from the city of Lyman in the Donetsk region (Donetsk Oblast), Ukraine on October 05, 202. Russian troops withdrawn from Krasny Port due to threat of siege as Kyiv had said that thousands of Russian soldiers were encircled by Ukrainian forces in the city of Lyman in the Donetsk region.

A view of destroyed armored SU-34 fighter jet belonging to Russian forces after Russian forces withdrawn from the city of Lyman in Donetsk.

Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A year after the war began, Russia continues to maintain a “substantial number of aircraft in its inventory,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a February 14 press conference.

But it’s not just the aircraft that Russia needs. Experienced pilots have been in short supply for Moscow, with its air force starting the invasion with “fewer than 100 fully trained and current pilots,” according to the Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank, which cited Ukrainian military assessments.

The think tank said Russia began committing instructor pilots to combat operations, hindering its ability to train anyone else.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine has been able to achieve complete air superiority — an objective that analysts and officials believed would have allowed Moscow to overwhelm Kyiv’s forces in the early stages of the invasion.

Moscow’s failure to control the skies comes despite it fielding hundreds of fourth-generation fighters and advanced aircraft like the Su-57, which British intelligence said in January had not yet been sent on missions within Ukraine’s airspace.